In January 2018, the Cambridgeshire Educational Trust launched an additional revision programme. We designed and built software to send personalised daily emails to parents of Year 11 students, providing them with revision questions to ask their child. The aim of the project was to help parents engage with their children’s revision. Each question would take an average of three to five minutes to answer. The core subjects of English, Mathematics, and Science were included, along with the EBacc subjects of Geography and History.

The project coincided with the roll-out of the new 9–1 GCSEs in science, geography and history. Producing daily revision questions formed an integral part of the strategy to develop high-quality resources for these new courses.

Why email questions to parents?

The importance of parental involvement in a child’s academic success is widely recognised. Home discussion and parental interest have been identified as forms of involvement that exert a strong influence on achievement (Desforges , 2003). The flexible email approach allows for parental involvement around existing schedules. It is a practical way in which parents can offer support, without access to high levels of subject knowledge; an approach advocated by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit (EEF, 2018). Our approach was also built on research findings from Dumont et al. (Dumont et al., 2012), who demonstrated positive effects on student outcomes from parental competence to help with homework.

Prior work

Although unable to identify similar schemes, we found close comparisons in EEF-funded pilot, ‘Parent Engagement Project (PEP) – Texting Parents’ (EEF, 2016); an intervention designed to engage parents in their children’s learning. Text messages informed parents of what their children were learning, homework submissions and assessment dates. It was classified as a ‘promising project’ with an impact of one additional month of progress.

Our daily email approach was based on a pilot study in the geography department at Chesterton Community College. This trial indicated a high level of support from both parents and students. Parents reported feeling empowered by the daily email, as it gave them a specific role, which increased their self-confidence in engaging with their child’s education. They valued the project because it provided them with a robust revision programme, not requiring prior subject knowledge, as questions and answers were supplied. Students reported feeling motivated by their parents’ active involvement in revision, supporting the findings of Hoover-Dempsey et al. (Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005).

What we did

Heads of subject produced the questions, which were allocated to dates using an interleaving approach. Research has shown that this brings benefits in terms of memory and transfer (Kang , 2016). We designed our software to integrate with our information management system, which automatically retrieves parent email addresses details and schedules daily emails.

Evaluation

The programme was one of many strategies introduced for the academic year 2017–2018, the effects of which have been collective. We are therefore reliant on anecdotal evidence about the success of the project.

Emails were sent to over 95 per cent of Year 11 parents, but we were unable to quantify the number of parents who were regularly opening and using them. Class teachers indicated that over 50 per cent of students were engaging with the programme.

Feedback from parents was entirely positive.

I think it’s a fantastic idea. It’s sometimes confusing for parents, especially busy ones, to get their heads round the complexity of a system that doesn’t seem similar to when we were at school. But this is a very simple idea. In my house, the way it works is if you want to get fed then we need to talk about this stuff first. Call them down 15 minutes early and it works a treat…

I think it’s a great idea as I do struggle to know what to help with and it helps start up that lovely conversation I try to have about revision!

I wanted to let you know that I think it’s a great idea. It’s fun, easy to do in a few minutes and allows us to open up the dialogue with our son about revision. We are loving it.

The future

In response to parental feedback, we will seek to write all questions in a multiple-choice format. Parents felt that multiple-choice questions were best, as they were quick to answer and did not require interpretation. Parents with English as an additional language were particularly keen that the questions take this format.

We will begin the programme much earlier, at the start of Year 10, using the retrieval roulette software developed by Adam Boxer (Boxer , 2017) to help us allocate questions to appropriate dates across the two-year GCSE course.

We will allocate members of non-teaching staff to work with children whose parents are unable to access the online programme. They will support them during registration periods, asking them the revision questions on a daily basis.

References

Boxer A (2017) The retrieval roulette. Available at: https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/the-retrieval-roulette/ (accessed 2018).
Desforges C (2003) The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievements and adjustment; a literature review. Available at: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/sites/default/files/the_impact_of_parental_involvement.pdf (accessed 2018).
Dumont H, Trautwein U, Lüdtke O, et al. (2012) Does parental homework involvement mediate the relationship between family background and educational outcomes? . Contemporary Educational Psychology 37(1): 55–69.
EEF (2016) Parent engagement project: ‘Texting Parents’. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Projects/Evaluation_Reports/EEF_Project_Report_Texting_Parents.pdf (accessed 2018).
EEF (2018) Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Parental engagement. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/parental-engagement/ (accessed 2018).
Hoover-Dempsey K, Walker J, Sandler  H, et al. (2005) Why do parents become involved? Research findings and implications. The Elementary School Journal 106(2): 105–130.
Kang S (2016) The benefits of interleaved practice for learning. In: Horvath J, Lodge J, and Hattie J (eds) From the Laboratory to the Classroom: Translating Science of Learning for Teachers. London: Routledge, pp. 79–93.